Showing posts with label Ella Airlie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ella Airlie. Show all posts

Thursday, April 13, 2023

George Campbell- Juggler, mentor to jugglers....


George Gordon Campbell, a juggler and mentor to other jugglers, came to Australia in 1906 and despite several forays overseas, always came back.

George was born in Leeds in England in 1881. He probably started juggling on the provincial circuit. Neither of his parents were performers, so it’s possible he ran away to juggle.  By 1906 he was with a circus and with a partner- Jarvis. The pair, Charlie Jarvis and Campbell were the featured jugglers in the Bostock and Wombwell’s circus and menagerie which arrived in Australia that year.

Amongst the menagerie of lions, tigers and bears, the jugglers contributed to a variety show which included Japanese acrobats and twirlers, eccentric clowns and of course, the human ostrich. They appeared in Perth together, but Jarvis did not follow the circus to the east coast. He and George split up. Jarvis took a new partner, young Victor Martyn ( Father of Topper) and Campbell went to the east coast with the circus, pairing up with another Jarvis, a member of the circus band.

It was this version of Jarvis and Campbell that toured the east coast of Australia. Their turn was described as clever and amusing, and from an early advertisement, it seemed to involve hoops, balls and passing half a dozen juggling clubs from one to the other. They were described as ‘princes of juggling’ and direct from the ‘London Hippodrome’.

Jarvis and Campbell left the circus and started performing on the Tivoli circuit around 1907/08. They spent almost a year with the Tivoli and on one memorable occasion lost their luggage in Western Australia and were unable to perform. In 1908 they were in Tasmania spellbinding the audience by passing clubs, hoops and balls, and then reducing them to hysterical laughter by presenting ludicrous situations. They were a bit hit in the island State.

 By 1910 they were so familiar to Australian audiences that they were described as ‘the well known jugglers, equilibrists and comedians.’

In July that year they were performing with ‘Godfrey’s concert company’ and one of their fellow performers was Ella Airlie, the stage name of Ella Palzier Ogilvy. Ella, a mimic and instrumentalist was, from 1908, Mrs George Campbell.

Ella and George as Airlie and Campbell toured New Zealand with the Fuller’s Circuit in 1913. They were a refined instrumental act, playing xylophones and piano.

In 1914, they travelled to England via the United States, but they returned to Australia by 1915. That year George was a solo and applauded for the originality of his turn, which marked ‘ a bold departure from the orthodox style.’ His finished it with an ‘original and entertaining spectacle’ using dinner plates.

Ella was a talented writer and musician and during the war she gained fame as the author of the sensational Australian pantomime, The Bunyip. The pantomime ran for years on the Fuller Circuit and was a smash hit. Ella was billed as the musical directress of the show, and both she and George probably took small roles.

By 1921, George had played all the circuits and all the theatres in the capital cities and regional areas of Australia. It was time for something new. So he, with Ella, travelled to San Francisco and Chicago to try their luck on the giant vaudeville circuits of the United States. Upon arrival, 40 year old George was described as 5 foot 10 inches tall, of  dark complexion with brown hair and grey eyes.

They started in San Francisco, on the ‘death trail’. Sometimes George appeared at theatres under appointment and found they had no work and he had to pay his own fares between venues which were often long distances apart. The wages were low and 15 percent went to the agents.

In Chicago he played to houses that were full, but the performers were all ‘trying out’ and unpaid, the acts were lured with promises that the watching agents would employ them.  Although he received ‘eulogistic’ reviews, the managers were still ‘shifty’, and work was scarce. He travelled to New York, paying his own way there after a short season in Chicago where he took a cut in pay to ‘get in’, but to no avail. The agents were ‘parasites.’

George wrote that in New York,  ‘it is well known that you get nothing unless you ‘tip’ the agent or bet him 200 dollars he can’t book you.’ According to George, the agents in New York left a drawer half open expecting tips as you spoke to them in the office. Overall he found the state of vaudeville ‘rotten’, the people ‘fine’ the weather ‘dull’, George ‘missed the sunshine’ and returned to Australia.

 When he returned, he formed his own show, and in 1923, the Campbell- Beaver- White company was touring regional Australia. Beaver was Herbert Beaver, who became a well known juggler and later a personality in Sydney radio. He was another performer who was probably trained by George.

Ella was with George for most of these years and had suffered through the disastrous tour of the United States with her husband. In 1923 the two divorced in a  high-profile case, where Ella was accused of adultery. She remained in Sydney working for Fullers and writing songs.

From around 1925, George created another company called the Cockatoo Farm company. They travelled through all the country areas of Australia producing pantomimes, burlesques and variety shows.  They were tremendously successful and popular. The company continued through the depression and into 1930s, at times employing up to 16 people. Their band, the cockies jazz band, was highly regarded in the industry.

In 1935, George passed away in Sydney aged 54. He was a mentor to young jugglers and was involved in the training of at least two who had solid careers. He was a man of staunch business principles with a dedication to vaudeville. There are few photos of him, and few reminiscences, but he was a pioneer of juggling and rural entertainment during some lean and lonely times in Australia.